Six Reasons Some Churches Are Moving Back to One Worship Style

You could not help but notice the trend of the past two decades. Numerous churches began offering worship services with different worship styles. It is not unusual to see a church post its times of worship for a contemporary worship service, a traditional worship service, and an occasional blended worship service.

The trend was fueled by two major factors. First, many churches were fighting worship wars. The great compromise was creating a worship service for each faction. Unfortunately, that created divisiveness in some churches as each faction fought for its preferred time slot. Second, some churches had a genuine outreach motivation. Their leaders saw the opportunity to reach people in the community more effectively with a more indigenous worship style.

Though I am not ready to declare a clear reversal of the trend, I do see signs of a major shift. It is most noticeable among those congregations that have moved from multiple worship styles back to one worship style.

So I spoke to a number of pastors whose churches had made the shift back to a singular worship style. I asked about their motivations for leading their congregations in such a direction. I heard six recurring themes, though no one leader mentioned more than three for a particular church.

  1. Multiple worship styles created an “us versus them” mentality. Worship wars did not really end with multiple approaches. In some churches the conflicts were exacerbated because those of different preferences did not interact with each other.
  2. The church did not have the resources to do multiple styles with quality. In many churches, inadequate resources meant one or all of the services suffered. It was deemed better to put all the resources toward one style of worship.
  3. The church moved from multiple services to one service. I heard from a number of pastors who have led their churches back to just one service, a move that naturally necessitates one style. Some did so to engender a greater sense of community; others did so due to excessive space in the worship center.
  4. The Millennial generation has influenced many churches. This generation is much more flexible in its preferences of worship style. They are questioning the need of multiple styles.
  5. Worship wars are waning. Many congregations with multiple worship styles created them as a response to worship wars. Now that the conflicts are waning in many churches, the need to segregate by worship preferences is no longer necessary.
  6. Multiple generations are becoming more accustomed to different types of church music and worship style. Contemporary music, in some form, has been around a while. It is not this strange aberration it once was to many congregants. And many church members who did not grow up on traditional worship are hearing those hymns in new and meaningful ways. Simply stated, there is a much greater appreciation for different forms of church music than in the past.

Again, I am reticent to declare a major trend to be taking place. But, anecdotally, I am seeing more congregations move to the singular worship style approach.

I would love to hear your perspectives. If you have any specific information about this trend, please bring it to this community so we can all benefit.

Posted on August 30, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Revisiting this blog and reading your post Aislinn, I have a few additions. At my last posting I was in a church that went totally contemporary and I don’t mean just music when I say that. I will be blunt- rock music, darkened room, shallow messages- based on biblical principles but no details or scriptural study- not even in small groups-milk messages focused on let’s be friends- Jesus is good. I was told it was selfish to want a certain “style”. My appeal was misunderstood yet I cannot help to apply that same argument to what has been done alienating all but the college aged and under to a so-called Jesus rock concert and shallow messages designed for short attention spans.
    Aislinn, you made several assumptions in your post. You praised the contemporary and put down everything else. Your points:
    -a new generation to drive worship
    -no martyr talk or patron acknowledgement
    -other eras of music just praises people
    -only for here and now
    -offerings were fresh and personal not bought. ?
    -dried up dead choruses have lost glory or anointing of God

    First you acknowledge God’s timelessness yet ignore it in his worship. All generations should be “driving” worship. The Hymns, Gaithers and others were just as focused on God and Jesus as anything else and while I do not study patrons I am familiar with Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and it is truly makes one realize, in more detail, the battle we are in NOW and then. BTW, the Bible tells us that during the days of sacrifice, Jews when traveling to the temple could buy their sacrifices for ease of traveling so I am not sure of the connecting point you were making.

    To share, I am now at a different church and it is absolutely wonderful. The church is growing like crazy. It is traditional in style but also has fantastic worship- traditional and contemporary together. Thousands are there and the congregation is a healthy mix of young and old. They have many services but interestingly not based on styles (except the one in Spanish) but based on activity- deep exegetical study, worship, prayer, special needs- mens’, womens’ services, etc.

    Like some others have posted here I question strongly the “move” to this new type of worship to make the church “unchurched” and like the world. It has caused division as everyone including the blogger has noted. This is not of God. What is wrong with “Because He Lives?” Because it is a Hymn of old it is washed up, a dead chorus with no anointing from God? I say that whosoever says such has no understanding of what the song speaks of. God is timeless and so is the music that truly worships Him. If you cannot sing with or partake in a song that is supposedly worship music then I would question the sincerity of the music’s message and the one supporting it. I see this as more than simply a change of style but an outright attack on the framework of church life in an attempt to appeal to the world and increase numbers.

  • I’ve heard it said, that the new styles of contemporary worship do not compare to the traditional because it is all about the here and now and nothing about past martyrs and or the about David or other biblical characters. I’ve also heard that contemporary music is declining because it just can’t hold it’s own. Hum Bug.
    I think that services are merging into one, because there is a new generation that has a drive to worship and it pulls us all in. The songs coming out now from groups like Bethel Music (from Bethel Church in CA) and Jesus Culture, are nothing but praise and worship to God. They may not talk about martyrs or praise the patrons of old, but worship music is not meant to praise the works of people in the past, it is for one single purpose, to glorify and lift up the Name of Jesus. Today’s worship music is all about the here and now because worship connects us to God who is the self existent One. The past, present, and future are all present to Him, to Him all things are all HERE and NOW. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice had to be fresh and it had to be a genuine sacrifice from the family offering it (that means they couldn’t go and buy a dove or a lamb from a market and sacrifice it, it had to be personal). These songs are fresh, they are personal, and God deserves our praise. He isn’t dead and He doesn’t want to sit in and listen to a dried up dead chorus from years past, or to songs that have long lost the glory and anointing, He is an all consuming fire.
    I think it has more to do than with budgets, worship wars, and inconveniences. Worship draws us all in and I believe we are living in the last days, and people are just sincerely hungry.

  • Remember at one time ALL music was contemporary. Some of the better songs just stay around longer than the others.

  • Marsha Metzger says on

    I had a pastor teach me that when Jesus was angered by the money changers, it wasn’t just because of the “business takeover” for profit. It was because the Gentiles could not worship in their courts because the animals and money changers pushed them out and took their place. When we promote autonomous views, we need to be careful to give others their autonomy to speak what their preferences are as well and not overlook any age group from our flock. If Jesus left the 99 and went after the one, I believe His presence will be lacking for those with personal agendas that promote what they want over others with the “bull in the china shop” methods. You may get what you want, but you will break a lot of valuable china. Many churches have great sound, lights and talented bands but if the anointing has left the building because of sinful desires and takeovers, what a waste. I’ve seen it happen in two churches that I loved dearly and I love all genres of Christian music and even lead music. In my humble opinion, when we mow people over, we are not in line with the fellowship that Christ desires in His church. It is all about His glory of which we must take great care to guard. Acts 15 shows where the elders are to be consulted with on issues pertaining to the church.

  • I think this applies more to Baptist churches than mainline. Very few Baptist churches have had dynamic traditional services.

  • Charles Jackson says on

    Our church holds two services for two reasons. First, it is a matter of space. We could not fit both services in the space we currently have. Second, Offering choices has actually strengthened our outreach. Some prefer the more traditional (mostly older, but not all). Some prefer the more contemporary (mostly younger, but not all). Offering the traditional service has enabled us to reach and baptize more senior adults than if we offered just a more contemporary service. We do not have worship wars, but do struggle some with keeping a “one church” mentality and practice. We try to schedule single service times (at different venues) once or twice a year.

  • Youth Minister's Wife says on

    As a “middle of the roader,” having a strong enjoyment of worship music from lots of different eras, and as a mental health therapist and a student of human behavior, I think these preferences are strongly affected by two factors: 1 number: the music heard when Jesus first became real in your life (early formative experiences) and neural framework due to time of life. Worship aspects like meditation and fervent remembrance come more easily to the fully developed adult brain, where the still developing young adult brain craves stimulation and novelty. For this reason, I believe a blended and slowly transitioning music set is the most fair to meeting the needs of the congregation, and one that recycles older hymns regularly BACK into the sets so that they become new again. I am just as touched by “How Great Thou Art” as I am by “As the Deer” and “Oh Happy Day.” Some old, some new, helps my ‘middle developed’ adult brain (30’s) worship in spirit and in truth, both in service and out of it. One of the best and most important parts of singing is the memorization of scripture factor- countless times the spirit has reminded me in my prayers of a refrain of a song which comes directly from God’s Word. And that doesn’t rely on a style, just the words. May we go forth in unity and peace through the power of our Lord, Jesus Christ, transcending age, gender, ethnicity, and social status.

  • Mark Hunter says on

    My thoughts aren’t original but what I’ve taken from reading and hearing on the subject.
    1. There’s something narcissistic about a generation that wants to do away with almost all worship hymns/songs from before say the 1950’s. That is very troubling.
    2. The contemporary songs are sung mostly for a very short time, 6 months, 2 years tops in most cases. If these new songs are so good, why do we stop singing them.
    3. Many of the new songs are sung with a quite a loud band playing and when the band stops and they want us to sing accapella you can hardly hear it. When the band is playing you can’t hear anyone else singing either.
    4. There just simply isn’t much good theology in most of the contemporary songs. The message of Christ’s sacrifice for us really isn’t there much. Neither is there much on our terrible depraved, lost, dead in our sins condition. There’s almost no lament in contemporary worship. Much of it talks about “me” and are bold statements about what “I” will do and that’s a scary thing. If we were really standing before Christ we wouldn’t be so bold, I think we’d be humbled to the very core of our being if we truly are one of his sheep.
    5. I heard this from someone else as well. Why when we are to be “fishers of men” are we fishing with lures. That’s where you try to trick the fish into thinking there’s something really there. I think the metaphor is much better served using the net method, no trickery involved.

    I could go on about repitition, the entertainment factor, romanticism and mysticism but this will do for now.

  • mark valesano says on

    You know, I find it amusing that we feel a need to be ‘contemporary’. At 59, I saw the dawning of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other contemporary rock bands. That genre of musical style was for pure entertainment value to those baby boomers of the 50′, 60’s and perhaps the 70’s. However, my older brother, and sister, along with myself were being raised singing the old standards, the hymns. at the churches we attended. And guess what? It has stuck with us over these past decades. No, the 3 of us aren’t foreign missionaries or do we hold any significant position within our local congregations (save being a SS teacher). Golly, I don’t think we ever abandoned our faith or left the church based upon the out dated music which we were singing. To me the biggest item I note is the personal testimonies behind those who composed some of the most familiar hymns still be sung today. Fanny J. Crosby, John Newton,, Charles Wesley and Ira Sankey weren’t into worship composition for money or market share. I think there’s a subtle risk assumed when one endeavors to create something more ‘culturally acceptable’ enters the realm of Godly worship or Biblical translations, as well. While I don’t have any problem with singing some of these more modern songs or choruses, I don’t think they should take preeminence over these wonderful songs which still can challenge and inspire the individual and the corporate body both.

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